A call to service

I write this as we put to bed our October issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics, just 24 hours after the hijacked jetliners hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

By John Keller, editor in chief

Military & Aerospace Electronics

September 12, 2001

NASHUA, N.H. — I write this as we put to bed our October issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics, just 24 hours after the hijacked jetliners hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. As I recover from the numb shock of yesterday's scenes, I feel a remorseless anger boiling up from deep inside. What does this is not only the image of the Trade Towers collapsing on New York City; it is also the lists of victims I hear read over the radio who were aboard the stricken airliners and inside the targeted offices, and the lists of their surviving family members. These lists, I know, will grow longer with each passing hour, as we come to know the victims who died under avalanches of rubble in New York and Washington. We simply don't know yet how many Americans were killed or hurt in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As you read this, no doubt, the picture will have become clear. I don't know for sure now, but I feel it in my stomach: yesterday, I fear, will come to be the bloodiest day in American history. I sense also, that we as Americans are a far different people than we were yesterday morning.

In my stupor of disbelief yesterday, I thought about other single days of national disaster brought about by premeditated human-induced violence. I thought about the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which killed 2,403 Americans. I thought about the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 Americans, and of the explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor Feb. 15, 1898, which killed 266 Americans. How will yesterday's attacks on New York and Washington overshadow historic tragedies such as these?

Then I thought about another September day a long time ago. Until now, many considered Sept. 17, 1862, to have been the bloodiest day in American history, when along the banks of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Md., 22,726 Americans — Union and Confederate — were killed, wounded, or missing. Of those at least 4,000 were killed outright and an unknown number later died of the wounds they suffered. I think yesterday in New York and Washington will turn out to be worse even than Antietam. I think we will have a new "bloodiest day in American history." I never thought I'd live to see this.

I also never thought I'd live to see U.S. Navy and Air Force jet fighters on wartime alert flying combat air patrol over Manhattan and the District of Columbia. Movies and novels don't prepare one for this. I never thought I would hear real accounts of names being read off over small-town supermarket PA systems of people being directed to report to their National Guard units immediately. So many other things from yesterday I never thought I would see. But now, what do we conclude from all this, and more importantly where do we go from here?

Our community, which the readers of Military & Aerospace Electronics represent, seldom needs to be reminded that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable, and ever-more-complex place. We inhabit a place, as we saw once again yesterday, in which military vigilance is essential; it is not merely a nice option to have. Each and every one of us yearns to live in peace, yet we in our community know better than most that circumstances can and do change in the blink of an eye. If we are to move forward, our nation must maintain a military force sufficient to defend American citizens, and to hit back with Old Testament fury when attacked.

Not only was Sept. 11, 2001 a wake-up call to the disinterested ranks of Americans, but it was also a call to service. Yesterday our nation was at peace. Today we are at war. I have a feeling that unanimity and resolve on Capitol Hill will take the place of bickering when it comes to defense appropriations. Many in our nation are waiting for what's next. We in our community already know what to do. Ray Alderman, executive director of the VME International Trade Association in Scottsdale, Ariz., put his sentiments in an e-mail the day of the attacks. In part, he wrote, "Depending on the findings surrounding this event, our industry may be called upon for military, telecommunications, and industrial equipment and board products. Let's support these potential needs, do our new design work in VSO for next-gen electronics, and do our best to support whatever actions are required by our country and our military in the near future. Say a prayer for all our industry colleagues, and all those people and families affected by this cowardly act of terrorism."

Well said, Ray. Now, gentlemen and ladies, it's time to move forward.

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